Prior to 2004, a talented but physically immature blue-chipper like Stamkos likely would have been returned to juniors for further seasoning. But the post-lockout era has been defined by the ability of rookies to make immediate impacts. Stamkos is a lock to continue the trend. The prime beneficiary of a splurge on rugged, offensive-minded wingers, Stamkos should net 70 points and establish himself as the lead dog in the Calder race.<br><br>Send comments to email@example.com.
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With the Ducks in cap purgatory, they're forced to hope for a significant contribution from their consolation prize in the Sidney Crosby draft derby. Ryan had his moments during last season's 23-game tryout, notching five goals and 10 points, but critics questioned his skating and fitness. He's tried to answer those charges by losing 10 pounds over the summer and spending hours on his foot speed. The results showed early in preseason and led to talk of 20 goals from the young winger.
3 of 26Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images
The Stars won an intense free-agent bidding war for the late-blooming Swede last May. Now it's time to see whether those scouting comparisons to Daniel Alfredsson were hyperbolic or on the mark. Brunnstrom has been solid in the preseason, earning a look on the top line with Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow. But he has to play at a level that earns that kind of ice time. Brunnstrom's cap hit --he could earn $2.25 million this season -- ensures him a spot on the team, whether he belongs or not.
4 of 26Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images
He surprised observers by leaving college after his freshman season, but no one was shocked to see how comfortably the third overall pick of 2007 fit in with the Coyotes during their final three games. With Mueller full time on the first line's wing, Turris steps in as the No. 2 center behind Jokinen. A player who can be effective in all three zones, but is especially dynamic on the attack, Turris will be in the running for the Calder.
5 of 26Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images
The rebuilding Kings will ice a slew of freshmen this season, but none look to have the immediate impact of the second-overall pick from last June's entry draft. The 6-0, 219-pound blueliner has impressed in camp with his quick, accurate reads and sharp passing skills. He'll be a solid 20-minute performer, and could provide a jolt to L.A.'s 17th-ranked power play.
6 of 26Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images
The seventh overall pick in 2005 struggled in his brief call-up to the Hawks last season, but displayed his power forward potential with 16 goals and 50 points in 59 games with Rockford of the AHL. He made the case for a full-time promotion with a solid training camp, catching the attention of coach Denis Savard with his speed and willingness to bang along the boards.
7 of 26Jamie Squire/Getty Images, Dave Sandford/Getty Images
Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie
The Blues' scouting staff demonstrated its chops when it tabbed Berglund (left) 26th in 2006 and Oshie 24th in 2005. The duo could prove to be as important to this team's future as Kane and Toews are to Chicago's. This season, they'll be counted on to provide the secondary scoring to support Keith Tkachuk and Brad Boyes. That's a lot of pressure on the youngsters, but Oshie (142 points in 129 college games) and Berglund, a dynamic presence at last year's World Juniors, have the offensive stuff to earn Calder consideration.
8 of 26Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Don Cherry compared the potential of the 2008 first-rounder to that of a young Steve Yzerman. Overly effusive? Maybe, but Hodgson, an under-ager who has a chance to break camp with the team, is a gritty competitor with a real knack around the net. A natural center, he'll have to switch to right wing if he sticks. He'll start out on the third line, but could see time on the power play.
9 of 26Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
Even an impressive performance in camp couldn't save the burly 19-year-old winger from assignment to the minors. The demotion was more a reflection of the absence of a spot in Montreal's top nine than any deficiency in his play. Though he'll start the season in Hamilton, it's inevitable that an injury will offer Pacioretty the chance to make his NHL debut this season.
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The fifth overall pick of 2004 (by Phoenix) is a 6-4, 225-pound winger expected to mature into an elite power forward. Wheeler exploited a loophole in the CBA to become a free agent this summer, choosing to join old buddy Phil Kessel in Boston. His play in camp has earned him a spot, but until the B's clear salary, Wheeler's $2.85 million cap hit could banish him to the minors, at least temporarily.
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Jesse Winchester and Brian Lee
Winchester (left) earned plenty of buzz early in camp on the Sens' top line with a nice mix of aggressive forechecking and defensive awareness. A summer free agent signing out of Colgate, he seems like a nice fit for coach Craig Hartsburg's system, but whether he has the offensive chops to remain in the top six is debatable. Lee (ninth overall in 2005) has a serious learning curve ahead of him, but his skill set fills an obvious need for an offensive-minded defender. He'll be eased in on the third pairing, but his quick reads and poise with the puck should earn him some time on the second power play unit.
12 of 26Rick Stewart/Getty Images
The Hobey Baker finalist was a Jedi on skates for the NCAA champion Boston College Eagles in 2008, scoring five goals in the Frozen Four and winning MVP honors. The fact that he's not much bigger than Yoda didn't slow him in his first NHL camp, but the Sabres prefer that their youngsters matriculate in the AHL before graduating to the big leagues. Gerbe will start the season in Portland, but he'll likely be the first offensive call-up.
13 of 26Dave Sandford/Getty Images
Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and John Mitchell
Grabovski (left), a speedy, creative forward who couldn't carve out a spot for himself in Montreal, has found there's no such logjam of talent in Toronto. He'll be given every opportunity to stick on a scoring line, as will Kulemin (center), a former linemate of Evgeni Malkin who scored 21 goals last season in Russia. Mitchell (right), a 23-year-old winger who has slowly built his credentials over the last three years with the AHL Toronto Marlies, could be a useful grinder on a depth line.
14 of 26Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
After netting 51 points in just 19 QMJHL playoff games last season, the shifty winger was considered a good bet to crack the Flyers lineup. But a late start to camp (the result of oral surgery) led to some lackluster play. Now Giroux is likely ticketed to start the season in the AHL. At some point though, he's bound to get a call-up. The eventual successor to Gagne, he'll be worth watching when he gets his chance.
15 of 26Dave Sandford/Getty Images
The leading scorer in the Finnish circuit last season, Pesonen brings some skill to the port side. At 26, he has the experience to step in immediately, although there are concerns about his lack of size reducing his effectiveness. He'll likely end up on a depth line at some point, but could move up to a more prominent role as he becomes acclimated to life in the NHL.
16 of 26Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
The 23-year-old Finnish defender was signed as a free agent this summer, and he's caught the eye of the coaching staff with his skating, decision-making, and willingness to use the body. He scored 16 goals in 56 games with Tappara last season, so he might find his way into the power play rotation alongside Brian Rolston.
17 of 26Lou Capozzola/SI
The Rangers have a surplus of forwards on one-way deals, but the 22-year-old Finnish winger earned himself a spot on the roster thanks to his versatility (he can also play center) and defensive awareness. Korpikoski scored 23 goals last season with Hartford, and he was lighting the lamp regularly in the preseason.
18 of 26Lou Capozzola/SI
The best reason to watch the Isles this season may be to follow the progress of the team's top prospect. Okposo, the seventh overall pick from 2006, likely accelerated his development by leaving the University of Minnesota at midseason. He scored a couple goals and displayed a nasty physical edge in a nine-game cup of coffee, whetting fans' appetites for something bigger in his first full season. He'll be given every chance to make an instant impact with first-line minutes.
19 of 26Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Canes' first-rounder is considered a good, though not safe, bet to stick in Raleigh this season. He's likely to have little impact, however, spending most of his time on the fourth line with spot duty on the penalty kill.
20 of 26Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The fourth overall pick from 2007 is a big, bruising blueliner the Caps envision as part of their top pairing with Mike Green...in time, anyway. This season will be about making the jump from junior hockey to the NHL, a transition that will be made easier by Alzner's physical maturity and mental agility. He'll likely be eased in on the third pair, but could be playing significant minutes by season's end.
21 of 26Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images
Stolen from the Red Wings in the 2007 Todd Bertuzzi trade, the 6-2, 213-pound center impressed in a four-game midseason tryout necessitated by a series of injuries in Florida. He's got a tireless work ethic, a solid defensive game and a decent touch around the net that suggest a long future as a staple of the Panthers' top six.
22 of 26Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images
The Thrashers will go with seven defenseman. That plan virtually guarantees an opening night roster spot for Bogosian, the third overall pick last June. Like all young defenders, he'll experience his share of growing pains. His preseason debut against the Red Wings was highlighted by clever play with the puck as well as glaring giveaways and bad penalties, but it's all part of the process. Along with sophomore Tobias Enstrom, he's the future of the club defensively, and as long as he maintains his confidence, he'll play a significant role.
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Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov
Brassard (left), the sixth overall pick in 2006, is penciled in as the No. 2 center alongside veteran Fredrik Modin, who'll offer a ready target for his slick passing skills. Voracek (center), the seventh overall pick in 2007, almost made the squad last season after a stellar camp. The playmaking winger returned bigger, stronger and ready to chip in. Voracek could start in a checking role, but his natural ability should earn him a promotion to a scoring line. Filatov (right), sixth overall pick in 2008, is a darkhorse to stick for the season due to his defensive deficiencies, but his skill set drew comparisons to Pavel Bure.
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The 21-year-old winger has scored 41 goals over the past two seasons -- an admirable total in the defensive-minded Swedish league. His ability to play a responsible two-way game will earn him a regular role in Nashville, but his touch around the net is what the Preds desperately need. He'll get every chance to play on one of the top two lines, meaning a 20-goal, 50-point season is a possibility.
25 of 26Rick Stewart/Getty Images
With a long history of giving an early chance to top picks, it's no surprise that 2007 first-rounder Gillies was in contention for the roster spot that opened up with the buyout of Mark Parrish. The big (6-4, 196) winger hasn't shown much in the way of offensive touch, but he's impressed with his skating and physical play, and could find himself employed as a big league grinder this season.
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It tells you all you need to know about Colorado's feeder system that the only ''rookie'' with a chance to crack the roster isn't much younger than that guy who's planning to retire next spring. Ledin is a 30-year-old vet of the Swedish circuit, but unlike last year's Euro-flyer Jaroslav Hlinka, he doesn't arrive with a recent scoring title to his credit. He'll likely be relegated to an energy role on the fourth line.<br><br>Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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